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More or Less? Creation Sunday

 
 

Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for Creation Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017.

Can we imagine if Jesus was sending out his disciples today?

Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts,

          No bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff.

This is severe!

If we imagine it today it would be:

Take no cash

No change of clothes

No back pack

Not even shoes

No car — of course

And no cell phones either!

One has to wonder if they would have gone!

I think a little cash would help; but maybe not a credit card. A change of clothes; but not a suitcase. A couple pair of shoes. but not a dozen.

But even if we modify it like this, I still don’t think the cell phone goes with them.

Imagine traveling like this: No car – no reservations because we have no credit card. No suitcase. No access to the internet. What would this feel like?

Have we ever risked going on vacation with one pair of jeans? Or gone on a road trip without a destination?

We build security around these things – car, credit card, cell phone. It feels a little less safe to travel without these. But isn’t there also a sense that it might feel more… free?

I like the idea of not carrying a suitcase. I always seem to pack too much and I feel burdened by it.

We have made a car essential in our world; so much so that it’s hard to imagine not having one. But consider if we had better public transportation, the freedom we could feel not having to make payments’ pay for insurance and worry about the car having problems. I was on a first name bases with my mechanic when I still had the Escort!

Did you know that universities often provide bus passes to students? It reminds me of when I lived in Tokyo. I loved it!   And there was no traffic!!!

There’s a Buddhist saying: Fifty things, Fifty worries. Life in a monastery is austere – no matter which faith. One doesn’t have belongings of one’s own, and usually one has just one pair of shoes or sandals, in the case of Buddhists. The point in either Christianity or Buddhism is that less is more, or less is better than more, when we talk about discipleship.

Today is Creation Sunday and the earth is in peril. It is no secret that I am upset about what is currently happening in our political world regarding the environment recently. But let me give you just a little history so you can better understand where I’m coming from.

My Father was an important person in my life. He taught at Oregon State University in the Religious Studies department for over 30 years. When he started out, he taught the 101 class and some bible classes. I remember he had a class on the Sermon on the Mount.

In the early 1970s, he took a sabbatical at University of California (Santa Barbara) and studied biology and ecology. Upon returning to OSU, he then taught a course entitled “Human Ethics and Ecology.” To say that my father was an environmentalist…. It is written on the epitaph by his memorial bench.

I grew up understanding the dangers of climate change 40 years ago!! We had one car in the household, a 1974 Toyota Corolla stick shift. My dad walked to work. I rode my bike everywhere. Did you know there are no longer bike racks at high schools?

I have grieved for decades watching us give homage to a desire for more… and bigger and then we throw it away. Bigger houses. Bigger cars. More credit to buy more things particularly since the 1980s after the credit boom and we could buy things with money we didn’t have!

It is as if we have been looking in the face of danger and saying… We don’t care! Or, are we just blind?

We live by the Cult of More in America. That is, if we have more, or do better, or get newer. We will be successful and happier. It’s the American Dream! Whoever has the most toys at the end wins. The myth of the upgrade.

I remember when Adidas shoes first came out. Prior to that we all just wore Converse. Anyone remember Converse? And we were happy

Converse were black, but Adidas were white with stripes – green, blue, red and black – in the beginning.

Suddenly it became important which shoes one bought. It was about status and identity. It included competition. I recall the week it was decided the black ones were the coolest. It created a junior high boys’ status crises. And then nobody was happy but the dominant boys who had made the decision and had the money to buy them.

This resulted in insults and bullying if you didn’t have the right shoes…. “Mom, I need black Adidas.” “I thought you told us to get the green ones?” “Yeah, but not everyone’s wearing black”

And so goes, the power of domination. Those who have money have the advantage. Shoes divided people – eventually we had $100 Nikes which re-imagined the world we live in today.

We have way too many choices today. In high school, while I was wearing some pretty cool shoes, I worked for Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors.   On the face of it, we think incredible flavors like Baseball Nut, Chocolate Almond Fudge, Strawberry Cheesecake and Rum Raisin.

Wonderful!  Right?…… Wrong! There were so many flavors, it became difficult to choose. So, instead of getting one scoop, we got two, or three, and even if we got three scoops, we thought about the ones we didn’t choose. Which created anxiety. And speaking of anxiety, after we ate the three scoops, we felt guilty and worried about our weight.

When people came into the store, they first had on happy faces. Then they would wander along the glass looking at all the flavors; looking troubled…. and not happy. It was a pattern: 31 flavors; 31 worries. We were actually happier with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. What we need today is a prophet. And there’s no profit in it, I can tell you.

Have we read the prophets? Have we read Jeremiah?

Jeremiah 22:13-17  (from the Message)

Doom to him who builds palaces but bullies people,

          Who makes a fine house but destroys lives

Who cheats his workers

          And won’t pay them for their work,

Who says, ‘I’ll build me an elaborate mansion

          With spacious rooms and fancy windows

I’ll bring in rare and expensive woods

          And the latest interior décor

So, that makes you a kind –

          Living in a fancy palace?

Your father got along just fine, didn’t he?

          He did what was right and treated people fairly

And things went well with him

          He stuck up for the down and out

And this went well for Judah

          Isn’t that what it means to know me?

          GOD’S DECREE!

But you’re blind and brainless

          All you care about it yourself

Taking advantage of the weak

          Bulldozing your way, bullying victims.

I found a commentary on-line of Jeremiah from Theology of Work. It says that Jeremiah was principally concerned with greed.

God calls people to a higher purpose than economic self-interest Jeremiah looked around and found that greed – unbridled pursuit of economic gain – had displaced the love of God, as people’s chief concern. Jeremiah is calling them to lives of integrity.  Otherwise their piety means nothing to God.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggmann said a similar thing in his commentary on Jeremiah:

All persons, but especially the religious leaders, are indicted for their unprincipled economics…. This community has lost every norm by which to evaluate and assess its rapacious and exploitative greed.

Greed is not good – period. Gordon Gecko may have said so. But the Bible doesn’t say so. Jeremiah doesn’t say so. Always wanting more is not good because it inevitably leads to division, domination, anxiety and poverty.

Ironically, shoes that I would call Converse are back in style.

Do we live by More or Less? Which will bring us freedom, love and integrity? I believe the Cult of More is killing us and contributing to killing our planet.

Again, on-line, I found a whole movement where people are trying to live with less. There are the Minimalists. Like vegans, they are fairly severe. Willing to live in those tiny homes – have you seen them? On Netflix, there’s a documentary about the Minimalists

Then there are the Essentialists who believe in trying to decide what is essential and getting rid of all that is extraneous. That can be very different for different people. But it is an important and transformative question for all of us.

They both speak of Life-Editing. Some of what one is supposed to do with Life-editing:

Edit possessions

Buy quality because it lasts longer and doesn’t end up in a landfill

Get rid of books – go electronic (personally I don’t agree with this one

Get rid of paper too

Take a walk

Live in smaller space

Take time to share in your family

Re-consider all your children’s extracurricular activities

Buy a smaller, more fuel efficient car

Let go of perfectionism

Assess holiday spending

And so on.

In the same vein, I suggest Soul-Editing where we would consider all that we have and do and how they connect to our love of God in Jesus Christ’

Assess our possessions.

What gives us a sense of God’s presence? And what distracts? Do we have anything like those new Adidas shoes that brings anxiety to our hearts and damages relationships?

Consider our spending.

What will this do to bring us a sense of spiritual integrity? What will this do to build up our community?

What about our investments?

Mike Slaughter has recently written a book entitled The Christian Wallet and he has a whole chapter of investing. And remember it was our Annual Conference through the work of Jenny Phillips that petitioned the General Conference to divest from fossil fuels.

What Jeremiah saw was people who would come to the Temple, but never search their souls and ask, what does this have to do with my faith in God?

Very simply, I think we are called to do the same. And I believe that we will find that less is actually more in the ways of the Spirit.

We are in the midst of a very dangerous time in two ways for our souls and for our planet. And they are linked.

Our souls are lost to mindless materialism. And our planet is suffering from congestive heart failure. And we’re still smoking in spite of the doctor’s orders.

Denying climate change is akin to saying smoking doesn’t cause cancer. And now, to continue the metaphor. recently we’ve gone back to cigarettes without filters, so to speak.

As long as we live by the Cult of More, we are hurting ourselves, others, and the planet.

So… what’ll is be………More or Less?

Amen

 

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